Milestone birthdays

There are milestones in every life. Some of them seem bigger at the time than they do in retrospect. Others seem more important when we look back than they did at the time. It is clear that we don’t measure our experiences as a series of equally-spaced events. Looking back, I can tell you where I was and what I was doing on some of my birthdays. There are other years, however, when my birthday just wasn’t one of the most important events of the year. Some years have a long list of important events and occurrences. Other years seem to have passed without all of the significant times. I’m guessing that others see their lives in a similar manner.

I attended a private kindergarten before our town had a public kindergarten. Turning 5 meant that I had a half day school program, but it wasn’t quite the same as my older sisters. It was when I turned 6 that I got to go to the real school - the big kids’ school. That school was eight grades, so I remember turning 13 - the age when our class was the oldest class in the school. Everyone else had to look up to us. Well, that was mostly symbolic since I wasn’t among the tallest in my class. There were 5th grade girls who were taller than I was in the 8th grade.

Turning 15 was a big deal to me. My birthday was on a Saturday, so 8 am on Monday was the soonest I could take the driving portion of the test to earn my driver’s license. I had already passed the written portion in Driver’s Education Class. I had a learner’s permit, but having my driver’s license meant that I could drive solo on the streets of our town. I’d been driving in the country, at the ranch and at the airport for quite a while.

My 16th birthday was on a Sunday, but I was allowed to fly solo in my dad’s airplane early that morning, before time for church. I did a series of take offs and landings with my dad, then he got out and I made a trip around the patch without him. When I made the 1st solo landing, he waved me on and I made two more trips around the airport. When I had parked the airplane, the guys cut the tail off of my shirt, wrote the date on it and pinned it to the wall in the hangar. I felt like a real pilot. I thought I was pretty much grown up.

My 17th birthday was filled with a sense of accomplishment. I had my college acceptance letter. Sure, it mentioned that I would be admitted on academic probation, but I was sure that I could maintain the minimum GPA to continue my education. I had gotten really high scores on my Private Pilot’s examination and my ACT tests during the spring. I figured I was pretty good at taking tests. And I earned my pilot’s license. What is more there was a girl I was trying to impress who was going to the same college as I.

My 20th birthday was the week before my wedding.

I earned my doctorate, with distinction, just before my 25th birthday.

I was a brand-new father on my 28th birthday.

I was preparing to move to Rapid City, South Dakota on my 42nd birthday.

Then there are a lot of other birthdays. Some correspond to significant events in my life.

So I don’t know quite what to expect as I look forward to my birthday this year. I probably shouldn’t be thinking about it since it is still a month and a half in the future, and I’ve got a lot of other things to occupy my mind. But somehow, this number seems significant to me.

One of the reasons it seems significant is that In preparation for this year’s birthday, I had to fill out my application for Medicare and I have ;a new Red, White and Blue card in my wallet these days. That detail is in my mind this morning because yesterday I had my annual physical at the doctor’s office. I pile up my various appointments in the same month each year - doctor, dentist, dermatologist, etc., so I’m in the midst of that round of appointments for this year. And some of those appointments seem a little less routine because I have reached that certain age.

For a while, in the history of this country, the age that I turn this year was seen as the age for retirement. I suppose that when I was younger, I might have thought that it would be so for me. But for many years now, I haven’t thought of that as the age for me to retire. I have my health. I have work that is meaningful. And there are a host of other reasons that I don’t believe that there is any one-size-fits-all age for retirement. Now, If I were an airline pilot, this birthday would be the age of mandatory retirement. On the other hand, my eyesight has never been quite good enough for that job and though I once thought that I would be a pilot, my vocation has led me in another direction entirely. And I’m lucky to have ended up in a place where I will be allowed to work for a few more years before making a big carer change.

Still, I am aware that I am aging. A lot more young people call me “sir” than was the case a while ago. I attend meetings where I am the oldest person present. High school students hold the door for me at the grocery store. Some stores automatically give me the senior citizen’s discount without my asking. AARP sends me two or three membership applications every month. My standing order at the place where I get my hair cut includes trimming my eyebrows and ear hair.

And, if you haven’t already figured out which birthday is coming up for me, I’ll give you one more clue. I was born on the same day as China’s president for life Xi Jinping. Apparently he isn’t facing a mandatory retirement on his birthday this year, either.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!